Sunday, July 22, 2012

Between-trip refrigerator clean-out

Salsa Peanut Sauce Chicken Salad

After coming home from our Florida vacation and before heading off to Chicago, I was on a mission to make the most of the ingredients languishing on my counter, in my herb pots and in the refrigerator.

I remember a former co-worker of mine mentioning that her mom made a sauce by mixing peanut butter and salsa together. It sounded gross, she admitted, but it was really good. I think I went home that night and tried to mix the two together and it was gross. Well, in a moment of clarity, many years later, I realized that said co-worker's mom must have cooked the two ingredients down into a more homogenized sauce.

There's a dish at my favorite Thai restaurant (Thai Garden in Hoffman Estates, IL) called "Popeye's Chicken," and the sauce that is slathered over the chicken and fresh spinach leaves is somewhat similar to this. Intensely peanutty, but also spiked with tomato and sweetness, the finished sauce seems surprisingly polished considering the lowly leftovers used to create it.

Mellow Mushroom Pizza- Panama City Beach

The huz ordered this pizza, as I was staying back at the condo with a sick and sleeping baby. All that to say I don't know the proper names of these two flavors. I believe the slices in the foreground were Mellow Mushrooms' vision of Thai-style toppings. The base was a sweeeet curry sauce with chicken. Those are some outrageously perky chunks of cucumber and a smattering of parmesan over roma tomatoes. I thought the cucumbers were, forgive my pun, cumbersome, but overall, I thought sweet and spice pizza worked. If I were in charge of the universe, I would have sliced an English cucumber paper thin, briefly marinated them in vinegar-sugar-water and sprinkled the whole slice with mint, basil and/or corriander.

The background slices are some sort of Mediterranean melange of chicken, feta, olives, red pepper and chives. It wasn't as flavorful as what you'd think the sum of several flavorful ingredients ought to be, but not bad.  Mellow Mushroom's crust is thick and toothsome, without the oil coating that many pizzerias use. Taken in isolation, I liked the the dense doughy chew, but I think Mediterranean pizzas are best on thin crust.

Oishi Thai - Panama City Beach

Because we vacationed with our good friends, Joe and I got a date night at Oishi Thai. This sunny little restaurant was off the touristy path, but packed full of patrons. Most tables seemed to be filled with empty nesters, but a large contingency of Asians filled two pushed-together tables, which I took to be a good sign.

After researching all that Panama City Beach had to offer, I wanted to eat at Oishi because they serve two of my favorite cuisines: Thai and Japanese. Their sushi, as you can see, is gorgeous. I love the way this spider roll looks like a fairy castle set in an asparagus forest and surrounded by a moat of eel sauce. That made my meal. It was quite tasty, though I could have done with much less eel sauce. In fact, I would have been fine without it. But that's because, as I've said in a previous post, I like my seafood to be dressed sparingly so its delicate sweetness can come through.

Who doesn't love crisp soft-shell crab legs and nutty pencil-thin asparagus? Probably only those who haven't tried them!

For my entree, I ordered Tofu Kee (?) Krow (?) Ok. I could have totally made that name up. It was something similar to Pad See Ew, but with tofu instead of chicken and a ton of barely cooked veggies instead of broccoli. This dish, which I requested as medium spicy, was loaded with big flecks of freshly ground black pepper. The lingering heat from the black pepper and the refusal of the tiny venue's AC to function, made me remember my 'real' Thai meals in the steamy streets of Bangkok several years ago. I was sweating, but it was a happy sweat.

 Joe's dish... Duck Pad Ped, was equally bright, crunchy and black pepper laden. Let's just say we were both in a happy sweat. This dish was good, but the duck was lightly breaded and fried-- a preparation that seems redundant for such a naturally rich and tender meat.

Overall, we enjoyed our date night. While it wasn't the very best Thai or sushi I've had, it certainly was beautiful to look at.

Finn's Island Style Grill Food Truck

Just cuz it's a food truck doesn't mean this is fast food. Again, Joe and I were beyond starving with two crabby nap-needing children in the back seat. Again, the food took longer than expected. I noticed that in PCB, it seems that well-known customers get served first, even if they breeze in after tourists have been waiting several minutes for their food. Perhaps I'd be more forgiving, since good food should take time, but it was around 2 p.m. and the wait shouldn't have been so long, in my humble opinion.

I ordered the "Finn-tastic Wrap," which was basically an enormous fish taco with lots of romaine toothpicked together in a pleasantly chewy (at first) green tortilla. While I did really like the colors and textures of this meal, I didn't really think the grilled fish was that great. Perhaps it was too spiced up with sauce and I was craving more of a fresh, clean, sweet fish taste. Also, I couldn't finish the green tortilla at the end because my jaw got tired. But that was quite tasty.

Joe got the classic fish tacos. I didn't get to try any, but it appears to contain the same fish I had in my wrap with a crunchy fresh slaw, cilantro, lime, tomatoes and cheese on a corn tortilla.

On a side note, my gold standard for fish tacos is probably all the wonderful varieties we had in Maui back in 2004... or '05? Perhaps I just like my fish to be delicate and subtle. I don't want fish pretending to be red meat.

Liza's - Panama City Beach

The Warm Napoleon Salad-- Eggplant, Tomato, Goat Cheese stacked on spring mix with balsamic vinaigrette. This was very good, but the fact that it took over 30 minutes to carry out diminished the experience. Also, eating out of styrofoam might have had a thing to do with it too. But, with two beached-out children asleep in carseats, eating in wasn't really an option.

Joe's Muffaletta. Italian meats, olive tapenade on foccacia. I think he liked it.